Walter White Must Die (season five preview)

Walter White must die. Fans of AMC’s drama Breaking Bad may disagree, but it’s hard to believe there could be any other fate in store for the show’s central character. 

When we first meet Walter, a high school chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he’s already a man with a death sentence hanging over his head. Diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, Walt spends the first two seasons of the show attempting to secure his family’s future financial prosperity by cooking crystal meth. It’s a good plan, at least from a monetary standpoint, and although Walt’s choices are questionable, they’re also excusable. As Breaking Bad’s protagonist, he elicits our sympathies, and makes us appreciate what it’s like to be in his shoes.

Something happens though. Walt’s cancer goes into remission, and he keeps on cooking. Early on, we get hints of the conflicted impulses that drive him; a company he founds – Grey Matter – starts making millions of dollars with his research shortly after he decides to leave the firm; he’s hobbled by his family responsibilities and his macho overbearing brother-in-law Hank; he’s disillusioned by a go-nowhere career instructing dead-eyed students at a local high school. 

Even freed of his cancer, Walt is still a man condemned. It becomes clear that money isn’t important to him any more, and the chemistry – which is the reason he sells so much meth in the first place – is secondary to his need to control everyone and everything in his life. This need for control is directly proportional to the powerlessness he felt in the past. For Walt, selling meth is a legacy project, strange as it may sound. It’s a way to leave a mark on the world. 

As Walt’s motives for cooking move from the sympathetic to the pathological, both brother-in-law Hank and lab assistant Jesse assume noble traits that weren’t prominent in early seasons. Hank – initially presented as a domineering, emotionally-stunted drug enforcement officer – now seems an ingenious, persistent investigator whose keen sense is starting to penetrate the smokescreen that obscures Walt’s criminal activities. 

Jesse – portrayed as a loyal partner, whether to other associates or Walt – has become the moral compass of the show. As Walt continues to be seduced by the promise of more power, it’s Jesse that mourns the death of a young boy shot needlessly during a methylamine heist in the first half of the fifth season. Could it be that Jesse will survive the end of the show, because he’s become – for all intensive purposes – “the good guy”? 

Walt’s future seems more certain as the final act nears. From the beginning, show creator Vince Gilligan’s described Walt’s character arc as the transformation from Mr. Chips – a mild-mannered teacher from fiction and early cinema, to Scarface - the gangster at the centre of two seminal films, one from 1932, the other from 1983. Both movies conclude with Scarface dying in a hail of bullets. 

In the flashforward sequence that opens the Breaking Bad’s fifth season, viewers watched as Walt was given the keys to a car that had an M60 machine gun and ammunition in the trunk. It seems probable, given his volatile temperament and mercurial judgement, that Walt may be about to raise some hell of his own. The question is, will he walk away from the confrontation? Or will he share Scarface’s fate? 

Walter While must die, that much is certain. But it’s supremely difficult to kill a man who already thinks he’s dead.